Fireworks emerged early in the racial vilification case against newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt in which he is accused of humiliating nine Aboriginal activists, including Framlingham’s Geoff Clark.
After a few false starts, with Mr Bolt being warned against using the witness box as a forum, the News Ltd commentator attempted to turn the tables on lawyer Ron Merkel, QC, who had said some of his writings on racial matters echoed Hitler’s Germany.
Mr Bolt said he found it extremely offensive that Mr Merkel had linked some of his columns and blogs mentioning the nine high-achieving Aboriginal activists with the Nazi era.
“Mr Merkel crossed the line,” Mr Bolt said.
What followed was a forensic, and at times, pedantic study of the offending columns and examination of the message Mr Bolt was trying to put across.
It livened up again when, discussing racism, Mr Bolt looked out into the crowded court and picked out former ATSIC chairman Mr Clark.
“Geoff Clark is a racist — Mr Clark has accused me of racism,” Mr Bolt said.
He said Mr Clark had travelled to the United Nations while head of ATSIC and that money could have been better spent on Aborigines at home.
Outside the court, Mr Clark declined to get involved in a verbal brawl.
“I don’t want to get into a bully boy argument,” Mr Clark said.
“The UN trip was very well justified.
“Nobody seems to be monitoring the progress and the spending spree going on in the intervention.
“There seems to be a lot of non-indigenous Australians benefiting there,” he said referring to the federal government’s intervention in remote Aboriginal communities.
The plaintiffs have complained that Mr Bolt’s articles described them as “white Aborigines” because of their fair skin and claimed they benefited politically and financially by claiming to be Aboriginal.
While Mr Bolt rejected that notion, he accepted that the nine people would not like what he had written about them.
“I didn’t think they would be humiliated,” he said.
“They would be insulted by having their opinions contradicted,” he said.
“I hoped they would be remorseful, but clearly not.”
The only other witness on Tuesday was academic Larissa Behrendt, who said Mr Bolt had used a photograph of her in an article picturing her with dyed blonde hair and commenting on her German heritage.
But Professor Behrendt, 43, said her grandfather was born in England, and she had no knowledge of German ancestors although her surname was German.
She described herself as an Aborigine and said her father was an Aborigine and her mother was a white Australian.
The nine Aborigines suing Mr Bolt are Mr Clark, Professor Behrendt, Pat Eatock, Bindi Cole, Anita Heiss, Leeanne Enoch, Graham Atkinson, Wayne Atkinson and Mark McMillan.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.